Senate yesterday began a fresh probe of the National Hajj Commission of Nigeria (NAHCON) in respect of alleged extortion and imposition of charges, among other hardships inflicted on pilgrims.
The upper legislative chamber, made the vow at the beginning of a two-day public hearing by its Adhoc Committee on Accommodation, Logistics, Feeding Offshore and Onshore of Nigeria Pilgrims held in Abuja.
It would be recalled that Senate on June 7, 2017 mandated its Committee on Foreign Affairs to investigate what it described as exorbitant airfare of over N1.5 million fixed for the 2017 intending pilgrims and the feeding regime by the National Hajj Commission of Nigeria (NAHCON).
According to the Senate, the probe will help expose any sharp practice therein and make appropriate recommendation concerning its findings.
Curiously, nothing has been heard of the report or outcome of the investigation since then.
However, chairman of the adhoc committee, Senator Muhammad Adamu Aliero (APC Kebbi Central), yesterday lamented that "there are tales of woes and sorrows by Nigerian pilgrims as it relates to their accommodations, feedings, hajj fare and movements while in Saudi Arabia".
"There were allegations of fraudulent extortion and imposition of charges by the National Hajj Commission through shoddy deals in accommodations, transport fare and feeding.
"It is alleged that the Nigerian hajj fare is highest in Africa and one of the highest in the world. While Nigerian pilgrims were normally accommodated in dilapidated, overcrowded and very far away hostels from the Haram, their counterparts from other countries enjoy better and more conducive accommodations throughout the hajj exercise", he stressed.
Senator Aliero said it is unfortunate that some government agencies and individuals responsible for regulating, controlling and monitoring of religious activities engage in corrupt practices and self-enrichment at the expense of hapless pilgrims.
He, however, maintained that "as a responsible arm of government, this Senate cannot fold its arms and look the other way while our fellow citizens are being shortchanged by greedy, corrupt and inconsiderate fellow countrymen".
The former Kebbi State governor also assured that the committee would unravel the allegations and come up with far reaching recommendations that will guarantee transparent hajj operations free from all sorts of abuse.
The Senate President, Dr. Abubakar Bukola Saraki, while declaring open the session, said the upper legislative chamber viewed the allegations as serious, hence the need to set up the adhoc committee to look into them so as to make hajj exercise much easier for Nigerian pilgrims.
Saraki described hajj as one of the most important pillars of Islam which every Muslim is aspiring to perform at least once in a lifetime.
He said: "As Nigerians, we like to put God first in all that we do. We are very strong in faith and we take religion very seriously indeed - not only because we believe that God orders our steps and the course of the nation - but because we also know that this way, we can be better people, and a better country under God.
"It is perfectly understandable, therefore, that many of our people strive to go on pilgrimage to the Holy Land. No fewer than 81,000 Nigerians performed the Hajj (pilgrimage) in 2017, and I understand that we have about 95,000 slots for this year. Little wonder our country contributes the fifth highest number of pilgrims to Mecca each year".
Saraki therefore stressed the need to address all matters affecting pilgrims including the apparent discrepancy between fares charged by NAHCON and independent tour operators; exorbitant and unsustainable charges; the suspicion that some service providers are 'cutting corners'; mixed quality in terms of service delivery; the exchange rate that should apply to pilgrims; the rate of the Basic Travel Allowance, BTA, etc.
The Senate President therefore promised that National Assembly would do whatever is humanly possible to stop the ugly practice.
It would be recalled that the Senate had on Thursday, July 20, 2017 debated on the astronomical hajj fare announced by NAHCON last year under a matter of urgent public importance brought before it by Senator Ibrahim Abdullahi Danbaba (APC Sokoto Central).
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